Then on Saturday morning I spent time attending another Western Cape government maths initiative designed by Andrew Barrett and the amazing team at Olico, a maths education NGO. More than 120 learners from 25 low fee/no fee schools descended on UWC to participate in the 2019 Western Cape computer-based “Times-Table Challenge” for Grades 6-9. I saw learners consistently scoring 100% in complex time-based multiplication calculations.

The top students in this competition were completing multiplication tests consisting of 15 questions per session at an average speed of 17 seconds per session! That’s answering each question in just over one second. And these were mostly learners from our poorest schools – and a few who have no regular access to doing maths calculations on a computer keyboard.

During conversations with several students at both competitions I asked them how they were able to be so innovative and achieve such phenomenal results in these competitions.

In both cases students replied without a blink: “School is boring. We are not inspired to learn. If we can be taught like this every day we will do much better.”

This raises the all-important question: what must the 2019 classroom experience be like for learners to achieve successful educational outcomes?

Across both platforms I have seen young people stand up to give absolutely inspirational performances. I saw them being bold in their ideas. I saw them embrace the moment to shine. I saw them egged on by their peers to do better. I saw them go and hug both those who succeeded and those who got edged out by a better competitor. I have seen those who took 19 seconds to complete a set of maths questions go and high-five their opponent who took 17 seconds to do so. No one threatened any one. No one got angry. All this points to the fact that there is much more wrong with our classroom culture than with our education system.

In our over-crowded classrooms with our over-worked educators, it is perhaps time to allow parents, NGO-partners and innovation professionals back into the classroom to help build a new classroom learning space. Unless we build these partnerships we will fail, not only in global rankings but also in supporting our children’s aspirations. I walked away knowing that our bright and beautiful children want a more supportive classroom to give wings to their dreams.